USS Thresher SSN 593 Commemoration

The upcoming 50th anniversary of the U.S. Navy's worst submarine disaster was commemorated in the Congressional Record this month by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Maine. The USS Thresher (SSN 593) sank April 10, 1963, during sea trials more than 200 miles off the New England coast. All 129 Navy sailors and civilian technicians aboard the nuclear attack submarine were lost as well, including 13 local Portsmouth Naval Shipyard employees.

"Each of the 129 men left behind a grieving family and a hometown in sorrow," Collins noted in her statement, which was entered into the Congressional Record on March 12. The Congressional Record is the official journal of the U.S. Congress, mandated in Article 1 of the Constitution. Collins,  the Pine Tree State's senior senator, also cited the scheduled dedication of a 129-foot memorial flagpole in the historic seaport town of Kittery honoring the milestone anniversary. Contributors to this project range "from schoolchildren and civic organizations to such U.S. Navy veterans as President George H. W. Bush," she said. "The height of the flagpole — 129 feet — is a powerful reminder of those who perished," Collins said.

The Thresher was the first in a new class of submarine constructed at the height of the Cold War. Designed and built at the local Navy yard in Kittery, the vessel was commissioned in August 1961. SSN 593 was considered the most advanced weapons system of its day, created specifically to seek out and destroy Soviet submarines. The vessel was the first nuclear sub in the world to be lost at sea, generating worldwide attention and sympathy half a century ago. The Thresher was conducting deep-diving tests following a nine-month overhaul at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard when it sank. A Navy board of inquiry later determined that a piping failure had caused the vessel's nuclear reactor to shut down; without propulsion power, the submarine dropped to crush depth and imploded. Collins said in her Congressional Record statement that the tragedy directly resulted in the creation of SUBSAFE, a safety program designed to ensure the nation's sub fleet "undergoes rigorous testing." No submarine passing thru the SUBSAFE process has ever been lost at sea. "Every safe voyage and every crisis survived since that terrible time is the legacy of the USS Thresher," Collins said. "The courage and sacrifice of those aboard the USS Thresher exemplifies the devotion of all submariners, past and present, and their commitment to the mission."

A Joint Resolution honoring the Thresher anniversary is also to be introduced this week before the Maine Legislature in Augusta. The Thresher flagpole dedication is set to be held the morning of April 7 in Kittery's Memorial Circle. More than $115,000 in cash and in-kind contributions have been donated so far toward the project, which includes other components still in the design phase. In a separate event, an annual remembrance service for the families of the Thresher heroes is to be held April 6 at Portsmouth High School.

"They did not die in vain," the senator declared of the lost crew. "The USS Thresher Memorial in Kittery, Maine, ensures that we will never forget those who are on eternal patrol."